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With Florida crop hit by freeze, tomato prices zoom up

Fallout from the freeze that wiped out 70 percent of Florida's winter tomato crop has hit local produce departments.

After wholesale prices almost doubled, retail prices for field-grown tomatoes leapt over the weekend from what's normally less than $2 a pound this time of year to about $3 or more.

Some restaurants ran out for a day or two. Grocers loaded up on pricier hothouse tomatoes and turned on a flood of imports to keep bins full.

"There are virtually no tomatoes available from Florida," said Tom DeBlieck, produce category manager for Sweetbay Supermarket in Tampa. "It's probably going to last until April, when new crops start coming in from Ruskin and Central Florida."

"We've had to get a majority of our tomatoes from Mexico," said Shannon Patten, spokeswoman for Publix Super Markets.

Grocers are also trying not to overbuy the tomatoes they can find, figuring sticker shock or product quality will sour some shoppers.

The January freezes killed much of the South Florida crop grown in Homestead and Immokalee that feeds most of the East Coast at winter's peak. A tomato crop matures in as little as two months, but a second planting in South Florida fields in February is not faring much better, thanks to a cold winter that still lingers.

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They're called soap operas because Procter & Gamble Inc. wrote, cast and produced Guiding Light from its radio debut in 1937 until the last TV episode last year. The soapmaker still owns As the World Turns.

Now the world's biggest consumer products maker has teamed up with Wal-Mart to produce a two-hour made-for-TV movie. Secrets of the Mountain airs April 16 in prime time bought from NBC.

Both companies claim it's getting harder to find enough family-friendly TV fare to stick their ads in without fear of viewer backlash. A study by the Alliance for Family Entertainment found four of five parents are concerned about TV profanity, sexual content and violence.

It's the first time P&G, the world's biggest ad buyer, created its own show for family viewers since Gilmore Girls in 1999.

This time P&G spent about $4.5 million. Wal-Mart put up an undisclosed sum as "presenting sponsor." The movie offers "family moments" of a single mother and themes of generosity, togetherness and honesty.

Both companies plan a full plate of ads plus product placement embedded in scenes for P&G's Duracell batteries and Iams dog food.

"It's what we call lunge-free TV," said spokeswoman Jeannie Tharrington. "Parents can watch without the need to lunge for a remote when they see something inappropriate."

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The shopping center industry plans to seriously weigh in on Amendment 4, the upcoming statewide referendum once known as Hometown Democracy that would require voter approval of virtually every land use plan change statewide.

The Florida unit of the International Council of Shopping Centers set a goal of raising $500,000 to help bankroll a $15 million campaign war chest being mustered for a coalition of business groups arming to fight the initiative on the Nov. 2 ballot.

Ryan Houck, director of Citizens for Lower Taxes and a Strong Economy, said his coalition, which is leading the opposition to Amendment 4, has not set a fundraising goal. But Oscar Rivera, Florida ICSC government relations chairman, minced few words asking 700 developers, leasing agents and landlords to pony up at an Idea Exchange in Tampa on Friday.

Mark Albright can be reached at albright@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8252.

With Florida crop hit by freeze, tomato prices zoom up 03/01/10 [Last modified: Monday, March 1, 2010 9:12pm]
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